The Coca-Cola You'll Never See On Shelves

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There are a lot of variants of Coca-Cola these days: Vanilla, lemon, lime, cherry, even coffee and green tea flavors. Some of us probably still remember the abomination that was New Coke, the flavor "update" from 1985. Backlash was swift and severe, and Coke went back to its classic formula just months after New Coke hit shelves.

But that national outrage was nothing compared to what would have happened if White Coke had appeared in stores during the Cold War.

During negotiations over the division of Germany, Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, brought a little treat for Georgy Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union. The gift was simple, but Eisenhower was anxious to share it: Coca-Cola, a favorite drink from back home. For Zhukov, it was love at first sip—but there was a problem. Coca-Cola was (and is) about as American as mom and apple pie. Though Zhukov had a reputation for being able to challenge Joseph Stalin and live to tell the tale, he knew his newfound love for Coke would never fly. So, he found a workaround.

Zhukov made a request through top U.S. military officials—some say it went all the way up to President Harry Truman—for a clear version of the drink that looked like vodka. Perhaps urged by the government to encourage diplomatic relations, Coke obliged, taking out the caramel syrup but retaining the flavor: White Coke. In order to further disguise the distinctive beverage, it was shipped to General Zhukov in cylindrical bottles labeled with the Soviet star. His first shipment was 50 cases.

It’s probably good that Zhukov got it while he could. Though Pepsi was available in the Soviet Union beginning in 1973, Coca-Cola didn’t make its legal debut until 1985—11 years after Zhukov’s death.